Harvard-trained expert shares how to 'move fast and fix things': It's surprising 'how infrequently people actually do it'

Leadership expert and author Anne Morriss
Anne Morriss and Frances Frei

Mark Zuckerberg's five-word motto "move fast and break things" spawned Meta's multibillion-dollar success and inspired an entire generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

It's also terrible advice, according to Harvard Business School-trained leadership expert and author Anne Morriss. In a TED Talk earlier this year, Morriss decried the idea behind Zuckerberg's phrase, suggesting instead that CEOs and leaders everywhere should "move fast and fix things."

That's easier said than done: The motto exists because doing things quickly tends to make people skip double-checking their work, and Zuckerberg wanted to prioritize speed over perfection in his company's early days.

But it's doable, Morriss said. She offered a five-step guideline you can use to fix problems in your workplace, with each step assigned to a day of the week to keep you on schedule.

"What I don't want you to do is to take months or even years, which tends to be our default timeline for solving hard problems," said Morriss. "Most of our problems deserve a more urgent response."

Monday: Identify your problem

To solve a problem, you usually need to diagnose it first. Do that with a question instead of a statement, Morriss said.

If your original diagnosis is something like "My Gen Z employees are entitled," you should rephrase it into a question, she said: "What's going on with my Gen Z employees?" Now, you have a better sense of who to ask about your problem to learn more about it — in this case, perhaps the employees themselves — and eventually fix it.

"Talk directly to the other people who have a stake in your problem," said Morriss. "Sounds obvious, but you might be surprised to learn how infrequently people actually do it."

Tuesday: Create a good-enough plan

In one way, Zuckerberg is correct, according to Morriss: A perfect plan is "an elusive, fantastical creature that has never actually been spotted in the wild."

Your goal should be to create a "good enough" plan to fix your problem, Morriss said. Try building that plan around how it'll impact people's relationships in the workplace, rather than raw numbers like revenue or profit.

"What we are assuming, and what I find to be a wrong assumption, is that speed breaks things," Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei told Morriss on the "Fixable" podcast, which Frei and Morriss co-host, in April. "But a lack of trust breaks things. So, if we have not first earned trust and we go fast, we will break things guaranteed. But if we do earn trust first, we can go fast, and we will not break things."

In her TED Talk, Morriss said she uses a simple prompt to help her clients come up with good-enough plans: What could you do tomorrow to build more trust than you did today?

Wednesday: Make new friends

Describe the problem and your good-enough solution to a diverse group of colleagues, so you can hear different perspectives and incorporate any valuable feedback into your plan.

"If you have been at the company for a decade, talk to someone who started last week," Morriss said. "If you are a white partner, talk to a Black partner. Whatever problem you are trying to solve this week, you are going to be better at solving it with people who don't already think like you do."

You don't necessarily need to incorporate every suggestion you get. Rather, focus on the aggregate: What areas of your plan received the most praise? What areas received the most criticism?

This process helps you hone your idea and spot problems you wouldn't have otherwise noticed, said Morriss.

Thursday: Tell a story

The best way to get your colleagues to buy into your plan, Morriss said: Approach the process like you're telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. Acknowledge the past, talk about the present and describe your vision for the future.

"As humans, we need stories to make sense of change, to find our place in the script of it," said Morriss. "Stories also help us to activate all the other people around us, whose help we're going to need with that change."

She cited her experience working with Frei as consultants for Uber, during its leadership transition from co-founder Travis Kalanick to current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. At Khosrowshahi's first all-hands meeting, he committed to retaining Uber's edge as "a force of nature" and applauded the work done by his predecessor, even while advocating for change, she said.

"Uber had serious problems to solve, as anyone reading the news could figure out. But the people in that room had built something extraordinary, and they had something real to lose in an uncertain future," said Morriss. "Instead of setting himself up as some kind of company savior, the new guy honored that complicated truth."

Friday: Go fast

Friday is your day of action. Take your good-enough plan, which you've molded over the course of the week, and start following it with a sense of urgency.

Say, for example, the problem you're trying to solve is an administrative hurdle — too much red tape slowing you down or keeping you from doing your job. By spending a week talking to people involved in that administrative process, you've prepared them for your action. They'll be ready for your proposal to cut the red tape, or your decision to simply start ignoring it.

The longer you wait, the more the problem may slip from your colleagues' minds. "Urgency releases the energy in the system and makes it clear to everyone that you take the problem seriously," Morriss said.

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